Advent Season unfolds in the midst of carnival-like barkers vying for our attention. The halls are all being decked while marketing agents scheme to capture our imagination. Colorful brochures arrive daily; on television sixty-second episodes guarantee happiness or satisfaction if the product being hawked is purchased. Amid all the hoopla it is easy to slip into the commercialization trap.
We ought to take heed, for while being assailed by advertising we can be consumed by a perspective that actually diminishes us. Leave the counting of cash and tallying up the score to those who glorify material prosperity. The real focus should be riveted on an event of absolute wonder.
These December days are set aside to prepare our hearts to celebrate a mysterious event. What theologians call the incarnation; what a first-century fisherman named John described as: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Secularists promote the gift giving, warm feelings and party atmosphere of the holidays while denying the supernatural, but this is where faith meets reality.
The Word became flesh means that God chose to be an infant fully dependent on human parents. It means that the Creator of the universe chose to be contained in time and space; to be imprisoned first in the darkness of the womb, then in the cradle bound in swaddling clothes.
The Word became flesh means our eternal Heavenly Father chose to be confined to a finite flesh and blood body; to touch, to feel, to eat, to be hungry, to be tired, to be forsaken by friends, to suffer gross indignities, to die and be buried. God became man; the One who fashioned existence out of chaos absorbed the full spectrum of physical life.
Nothing is more misunderstood, more impossibly puzzling, more difficult to comprehend or more vital to humanity’s hope. How can we wrap our minds around this great mystery? Any and all efforts to illustrate such an infinite concept will be problematic, but the movie Dances With Wolves provides an intriguing metaphor.
The story is set in the 1860s. Kevin Costner plays U.S. Army Captain John Dunbar. He is dispatched to command a post in the Dakota Territory, a region occupied by the Lakota Sioux tribe. Dunbar came to appreciate the Sioux culture and respect their traditions. He longed to interact with them, but he was an outsider.
Ultimately, the only way for him to relate to the Lakota people was to become one of them. He abandoned his military uniform and dressed as they dressed, ate as they ate, lived as they lived. He hunted with them, participated in their customs and danced as they danced. He learned their language and was given a Sioux name, Šuŋgmánitu Tȟaŋka Ob’wačhi, which becomes Dances With Wolves in English.
In this we see a type of incarnation. The big difference is that John Dunbar perceived the Lakota Sioux to be noble and honorable, whereas God looked at our helpless condition and saw our desperate need to be redeemed.
Filled with compassion, God wanted to communicate his love for humanity so he became one of us by setting aside his royalty to take on the form of a man. He dressed as we dressed, ate as we ate, lived as we lived. He learned from us and spoke the language of our experiences to show and tell us how much he loves us. Though he was sinless, he took on our sin and died for us.
The Word became flesh means God imparted his love to us by crawling into our skin. He didn’t write a check from the safety of heaven. He responded to our sin by involving himself in our lives and encountering our predicament head-on. That means that he got his hands dirty because incarnation is messy business.
God came into the world in a grungy manger and ended his earthly life nailed to a cross. But he did not stay on the cross or in the tomb. He conquered sin and death. If that were not so, there would be no reason to remember his birth or death. Jesus of Nazareth would simply be a long forgotten religious troublemaker; a mere footnote of history.
Christmas is about the birth of the Christ-child. So disregard the marketplace hype, and allow hope to be renewed by the everlasting love encapsulated in Bethlehem’s manger.
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